Girona coach Michel faces former club Rayo aiming to keep Spanish sensation atop league

Thu, Nov 9, 2023
Soccer News (AP)

Girona coach Michel faces former club Rayo aiming to keep Spanish sensation atop league

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Michel Sanchez has turned Girona into the sensation of the Spanish league.

His red-hot team next faces a visit to his former club, Rayo Vallecano, on Saturday seeking another victory to protect its unexpected lead.

Michel, who goes by his first name in Spain, played for Rayo as a midfielder before his retirement in 2012. He later returned to coach the club for two seasons before eventually making it to northeast Catalonia to take over at Girona in 2021.

Girona, which is partly controlled by Manchester City's Abu Dhabi ownership, has overachieved with 10 wins in 12 games this season. Its only loss was against second-placed Real Madrid, which is two points adrift after Rayo held the powerhouse to a scoreless draw at the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend.

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Girona was taken over in 2017 when the Abu Dhabi ownership bought a 44.3% share. Pere Guardiola, the brother of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, is the managing director of Girona Football Group, which has an equal 44.3% share in the club.

Ukraine striker Artem Dovbyk leads Girona with six goals while five more players, including midfielder Aleix Garcia, have scored at least three each.

The match will feature two of the league's youngest coaches. Michel is 48, while Rayo's Francisco Rodriguez is 45.

Francisco is also impressing in his first season after replacing Andoni Iraola, who had become a fan favorite. He has Rayo in ninth place and undefeated in eight games.

Madrid hosts Valencia on Saturday looking to rebound from the stumble against the modest Rayo.

Madrid qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds on Wednesday after beating Braga 3-0.

Jude Bellingham, who leads the Spanish league with 10 goals, stayed on the bench against Braga after nursing a shoulder injury this week. Andriy Lunin replaced Kepa Arrizabalaga in Madrid's goal after the former Chelsea keeper was injured just before kickoff.

Barcelona is four points behind Girona in third place before hosting Alaves on Sunday, when fourth-placed Atletico Madrid plays Villarreal.

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